My mother always jokes that I spend more time and money at Starbucks than I do anywhere else. She is telling the truth to be perfectly honest. I was a law student at the University of Alabama School of Law in Tuscaloosa at the time of the storm. During the week, I preferred being at Starbucks whenever I could afford it and avoided sitting in my apartment or the library at school to study. My addiction to Starbucks is something I will be eternally grateful for as a result of events that occurred on April 27, 2011 because it saved my life.
Miraculously, l lived to tell the story. The coming days of literally losing all of my material possessions yet gaining a fresh perspective on life changed me forever. I had an epiphany after the ordeal and have used each day that I am blessed with to eat, drink, and savor life – fully and freely.
I woke up on April 27, 2011 with the immediate inclination to go back to sleep for a few extra hours. Classes were out for final exams and sleeping was a real option at the time. However, my next urge nudged me to get up for a caffeine fix at Starbucks to refocus my energy to study for my upcoming final exams. Unbeknownst to me, I would make it to the McFarland Boulevard Starbucks branch just in time before the devastating state-wide tornado outbreak began. I sat in my usual comfortable corner of Starbucks with my headphones on and my computer in front of me trying to review for my exam for about 45 minutes. While I was sitting, I noticed the sky getting extremely dark and cloudy. Instinctively, I started to head back home but something in the pit of my stomach told me to sit still.
Next, one of the employees let me and the only other customer in the store know that there was a tornado reported in Mississippi that was coming directly toward Tuscaloosa. Fifteen minutes later, we pulled up streaming internet video of the live footage from The Tuscaloosa News that showed the tornado on the ground in downtown Tuscaloosa. Shortly after, we found ourselves looking out the back of the shop with our eyes fixed on a mile wide F-4 tornado making its way directly for our direction. Some of us, including myself, foolishly took pictures of the approaching funnel.
Quickly, the service door was shut and we ran toward the bathrooms in the middle of the store. Before we could close the door, the windows began to violently shatter and everything inside of the shop flew into air. I ran for cover in the innermost part of the room and realized that my final moments of living could be drawing near. My awareness of the windows blowing from the wind speed, glass flying everywhere, and the sonic landscape sounding like a train derailing caused me to become paralyzed with helpless fear. The store walls soon began to shake and the ceiling insulation started to give way. I immediately started praying, “Lord, let me live,” over and over with my computer held over my head.
We opened the bathroom doors after it felt like the storm passed and stepped out to see the damage. The wind was still blowing and there was glass, debris, and furniture scattered everywhere. Upon stepping out of the store and looking towards 15th street, nothing seemed recognizable.
I was completely disoriented and could only see a collage of flipped over cars, rubble where houses and buildings once stood, debris, and a violent path where the tornado ripped through the heart of my town’s bustling center. The sight was simply terrifying and my next instinct made me reach for my phone to call all of my family and friends.
Until the Next Post,
P.S. The photos included in this blog post are from my personal footage from the April 27, 2011 tornado. Stay tuned for Weather the Storm – Part II to read the second half of the story.